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  • Help prevent lice: Buy Your Lice Bag
  • Our Process

    The Lice Detectives manually screen hair for lice and nits. We remove parasites (lice) and nits (eggs) by hand using a specialized combing system, nontoxic natural products and the Nit-Free Terminator Comb.

    The Lice Detectives educate you and your family about treating your environment and preventing re-infestation. Most importantly, the Lice Detectives provide your family with peace of mind!

    Our Promise

    The Lice Detectives will always maintain your confidentiality.

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The Facts of Lice

Frequently Asked Questions:

Information on Prescription and Over-the-Counter Medications

What are head lice? back to top >

The head louse, or Pediculus humanus capitis (peh-DICK-you-lus HUE-man-us CAP-ih-TUS), is a parasitic insect that can be found on the head, eyebrows, and eyelashes of people. Head lice feed on human blood several times a day and live close to the human scalp. Head lice are not known to spread disease.

Who is at risk for getting head lice? back to top >

Head lice are found worldwide. In the United States, infestation with head lice is most common among preschool children attending child care, elementary school children, and the household members of infested children. Although reliable data on how many people in the United States get head lice each year are not available, an estimated 6 million to 12 million infestations occur each year in the United States among children 3 to 11 years of age. In the United States, infestation with head lice is much less common among African-Americans than among persons of other races, possibly because the claws of the head louse found most frequently in the United States are better adapted for grasping the shape and width of the hair shaft of other races. Head lice move by crawling; they cannot hop or fly. Head lice are spread by direct contact with the hair of an infested person. Anyone who comes in head-to-head contact with someone who already has head lice is at greatest risk. Personal hygiene or cleanliness in the home or school has nothing to do with getting head lice.

What do head lice look like? back to top >

Head lice have three forms: the egg (also called a nit), the nymph, and the adult.

Head Lice Nit  > Head Lice Nymph > Adult Head Louse

  1. Egg/Nit: Nits are lice eggs laid by the adult female head louse at the base of the hair shaft nearest the scalp. Nits are firmly attached to the hair shaft and are oval-shaped and very small (about the size of a knot in thread) and hard to see. Nits often appear yellow or white although live nits sometimes appear to be the same color as the hair of the infested person. Nits are often confused with dandruff, scabs, or hairspray droplets. Head lice nits usually take about 8-9 days to hatch. Eggs that are likely to hatch are usually located no more than ¼ inch (or 1 centimeter) from the base of the hair shaft.
  2. Nymph: A nymph is an immature louse that hatches from the nit. A nymph looks like an adult head louse, but is smaller. To live, a nymph must feed on blood. Nymphs mature into adults about 9-12 days after hatching from the nit.
  3. Adult: The fully grown and developed adult louse is about the size of a sesame seed, has six legs, and is tan to grayish-white in color. Adult head lice may look darker in persons with dark hair than in persons with light hair. To survive, adult head lice must feed on blood. The adult head louse life span is about 30 days on a person’s head but the louse will die within one or two days if it falls off a person. Adult female head lice are usually larger than males and can lay about six eggs each day.
Where are head lice most commonly found? back to top >

Head lice and head lice nits are found almost exclusively on the scalp, particularly around and behind the ears and near the neckline at the back of the head. Head lice or head lice nits sometimes are found on the eyelashes or eyebrows but this is uncommon. Head lice hold tightly to hair with hook-like claws at the end of each of their six legs; head lice nits are cemented firmly to the hair shaft and can be difficult to remove.

What are the signs and symptoms of head lice infestation? back to top >
  • Tickling feeling of something moving in the hair.
  • Itching, caused by an allergic reaction to the bites of the head louse.
  • Irritability and difficulty sleeping; head lice are most active in the dark.
  • Sores on the head caused by scratching. These sores can sometimes become infected with bacteria found on the person's skin.
How do you get head lice? back to top >

Head-to-head contact with an already infested person is the most common way to get head lice. Head-to-head contact is common during play at school, at home, and elsewhere (sports activities, playground, slumber parties, camp).

Dogs, cats, and other pets do not play a role in the spread of human lice.

How is a head lice infestation diagnosed? back to top >

The diagnosis of a head lice infestation is best made by finding a live nymph or adult louse on the scalp or hair of a person. Because nymphs and adult lice are very small, move quickly, and avoid light, they can be difficult to find. Use of a magnifying lens and a fine-toothed comb may be helpful to find live lice. If crawling lice are not seen, finding nits firmly attached within a 1/4 inch of the base of the hair shafts strongly suggests, but does not confirm, that a person is infested and should be treated. Nits that are attached more than 1/4 inch from the base of the hair shaft are almost always dead or already hatched. Nits are often confused with other things found in the hair such as dandruff, hairspray droplets, and dirt particles. If you are not sure if a person has head lice, the diagnosis should be made by their health care provider, local health department, or other person trained to identify live head lice.

Is infestation with head lice reportable? back to top >

Most health departments do not require reporting of head lice infestation. However, it may be beneficial for the sake of others to share information with school nurses, parents of classmates, and others about contact with head lice.

Do head lice spread disease? back to top >

Head lice should not be considered as a medical or public health hazard. Head lice are not known to spread disease. Head lice can be an annoyance because their presence may cause itching and loss of sleep. Sometimes the itching can lead to excessive scratching that can sometimes increase the chance of a secondary skin infection.

Can wigs or hairpieces spread lice? back to top >

Head lice and their eggs (nits) soon perish if separated from their human host. Adult head lice can live only a day or so off the human head without blood for feeding. Nymphs (young head lice) can live only for several hours without feeding on a human. Nits (head lice eggs) generally die within a week away from their human host and cannot hatch at a temperature lower than that close to the human scalp. For these reasons, the risk of transmission of head lice from a wig or other hairpiece is small, particularly if the wig or hairpiece has not been worn within the preceding 48 hours by someone who is actively infested with live head lice.

Can swimming spread lice? back to top >

Data show that head lice can survive underwater for several hours but are unlikely to be spread by the water in a swimming pool. Head lice have been seen to hold tightly to human hair and not let go when submerged underwater. Chlorine levels found in pool water do not kill head lice. Head lice may be spread by sharing towels or other items that have been in contact with an infested person's hair. Children should be taught not to share towels, hairbrushes, and similar items either at poolside or in locker rooms.

Is using mayonnaise to treat head lice effective? back to top >

There is no clear scientific evidence to determine if suffocation of head lice with mayonnaise, olive oil, margarine, butter, or similar substances is an effective form of treatment.

Are there any side effects from using chemical treatments for head lice? back to top >

Some treatments may cause an itching or a mild burning sensation caused by inflammation of the skin on the scalp. Most products used to treat head lice are pesticides that can be absorbed through the skin.

Why do some experts recommend bagging items for 2 weeks? back to top >

Head lice survive less than one or two days if they fall off the scalp and cannot feed. Head lice eggs (nits) cannot hatch and usually die within a week if they do not remain under ideal conditions of heat and humidity similar to those found close to the human scalp. Therefore, because a nit must incubate under conditions equivalent to those found near the human scalp, it is very unlikely to hatch away from the head. In addition, if the egg were to hatch, the newly emerged nymph would die within several hours if it did not feed on human blood.
However, although rarely necessary, some experts recommend that items that may be contaminated by an infested person which cannot be laundered or dry-cleaned should be sealed in plastic bag and stored for 2 weeks to kill any lice that already are present or that might hatch from any nits that may be present on the items.

Should my pets be treated for head lice? back to top >

No. Head lice do not live on pets. Pets do not play a role in the spread of head lice.

Should household sprays be used to kill adult lice? back to top >

No. Using fumigant sprays or fogs is NOT recommended. Fumigant sprays and fogs can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and they are not necessary to control head lice.

Should I have a pest control company spray my house? back to top >

No. Use of insecticide sprays or fogs is NOT recommended. Fumigant spray and fogs can be toxic if inhaled or absorbed through the skin and they are not necessary to control head lice. Routine vacuuming floors and furniture is sufficient to remove lice or nits that may have fallen off the head of an infested person.

Will laundering kill head lice? back to top >

Washing, soaking, or drying items at a temperature greater than 130°F can kill both head lice and nits. Dry cleaning also kills head lice and nits. Only items that have been in contact with the head of the infested person in the 48 hours before treatment should be considered for cleaning. Although freezing temperatures can kill head lice and nits, several days may be necessary depending on temperature and humidity; freezing is rarely (if ever) needed as a means for treating head lice.

For Those Who Still Want More Information About Over-The-Counter And Prescription Medications

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  • Over-the-counter Medications

    Many head lice medications are available “over-the-counter” without a prescription at a local drugstore or pharmacy. Each over-the-counter product approved for the treatment of head lice contains one of the following active ingredients:

    Pyrethrins (pie-WREATH-rins) combined with piperonyl butoxide (pie-PER-a-nil beu-TOX-side);
    Brand-name products:
    A-200*, Pronto*, R&C*, Rid*, Triple X*
    Pyrethrins are naturally occurring pyrethroid extracts from the chrysanthemum flower. Treatment failures can be common depending on whether lice are resistant to pyrethrins in the patient’s geographic location. Pyrethrins generally should not be used by persons who are allergic to chrysanthemums or ragweed. Twenty to 80 percent of treated nits survive, necessitating a second treatment seven to ten days after the first application.
    Permethrin lotion 1% (per-meth-rin);
    Brand-name product:
    Nix*
    Permethrin is a synthetic pyrethroid similar to naturally occurring pyrethrins. Permethrin lotion 1% is approved by the FDA for the treatment of head lice. Treatment failures can be common depending whether lice are resistant to permethrin in the patient’s geographic location. Studies suggest that lice have developed resistance to this drug. Permethrin is not approved for use in children less than 2 years old.
  • Prescription Medications

    The following medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of head lice are available only by prescription:

    Malathion lotion 0.5%;
    Brand-name product:
    Ovide*
    Malathion is an organophosphate. Malathion lotion 0.5% is approved by the FDA for the treatment of head lice. Malathion is intended for use on persons 6 years of age and older. Malathion can be irritating to the skin and scalp; contact with the eyes should be avoided. Malathion lotion is flammable; do not smoke or use electrical heat sources, including hair dryers, curlers, and curling or flat irons, when applying malathion lotion and while the hair is wet.
    Lindane shampoo 1%;
    Brand-name products:
    None available
    Lindane is an organochloride. Although lindane shampoo 1% is approved by the FDA for the treatment of head lice, it is not recommended as a first-line therapy. Overuse, misuse, or accidentally swallowing lindane can be toxic to the brain and other parts of the nervous system; its use should be restricted to patients who have failed treatment with or cannot tolerate other medications that pose less risk. Lindane should not be used to treat persons with a seizure disorder, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, persons who have very irritated skin or sores where the lindane will be applied, infants, children, the elderly, and persons who weigh less than 110 pounds.

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